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Going meatless has many advantages, be it for your health or for the environment. But can it help with dropping pounds? Yes, vegetarians may lose more weight than meat-eaters, according to a recent review of studies published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
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This review examined 12 clinical trials in which groups of participants were randomly assigned to either a vegetarian or nonvegetarian diet. Though the trials varied in length and calorie counts, researchers found that participants following the plant-based diets consistently lost more weight than the omnivores, averaging 4.5 pounds greater weight loss. The review authors point to the vegetarians' abundant intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables as the key to their improved weight loss, noting that higher-fiber diets have been proven to be more satisfying.
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Hana Kahleova, M.D., director of clinical research at Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., was lead researcher on one of the studies included in the review. In her study, people with diabetes were fed either a plant-based diet or an omnivore's diet. The vegetarian group lost twice as much weight as the meat eaters—13.6 pounds compared to 7 pounds over a 6-month period—even though they ate the same number of calories. The vegetarians not only lost more weight but also reduced their visceral (abdominal) fat and improved their insulin resistance, which means they can metabolize and digest food more efficiently. "This finding is important for people who are trying to lose weight, including those suffering from metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes," said Kahleova. "But it is also relevant to anyone who takes their weight management seriously and wants to stay lean and healthy."
Even if you're a meat lover who's not interested in following a completely vegetarian diet, simply reducing the amount of meat you eat may help you slim down. Give Meatless Monday a try or commit to eating no meat before dinner. Of course, cutting out meat doesn't necessarily mean you'll lose weight. Replace it with more fiber- and nutrient-rich plant foods: choose a diet of mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, vegetarian proteins like lentils and tofu and healthy plant-based fats. Eating more plants may be the answer to your weight-loss woes and also help improve your metabolism and stave off or better control diabetes.